To solve student housing crisis, Chancellor Christ turns to city

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Jessica Gleason /File

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Three-quarters of UC Berkeley undergraduate students are not guaranteed housing — the lowest rate of student accommodation of all 10 UC campuses.

In conjunction with plans by the UC Board of Regents to increase enrollment in the coming years, the campus faces an ever-pressing need to provide adequate student housing. To do so, new Chancellor Carol Christ has turned to the city.

“I’ve already seen more of (Christ) than I have of (former chancellor Nicholas Dirks),” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “She’s already met several times with the mayor. I think she’s talked with most of the council members. ... Hopefully, we can come up with a list of projects to work on.”

As she steps into her new position, Christ said she hopes for a strong relationship with the city characterized by “synergy and interdependence.”

“The city is our home. … We depend upon — and also help finance — services from the city, and I hope we offer many public benefits to the city,” Christ said in a sit-down with The Daily Californian. “So I look forward to this being a very close partnership.”

As the campus deals with a lack of student housing, Christ has also been communicating with the city about how to tackle problems like homelessness — and the intersection of these two issues.

She characterized certain sites, such as the Oxford Tract, which currently serves as research land for the College of Natural Resources, and People’s Park, as “politically complex.”

Christ emphasized that it’s important to respect the historical significance of People’s Park. She has hired a social worker to help alleviate homelessness in the city and a special adviser to head the campus’s involvement with People’s Park.

Whether or not developing on these locations is worth the obstacles involved has been up for public debate.

“(People’s Park) was one location on a long list of locations. I think there are other numerous locations on the list that are actually viable and that have less obstacles,” Worthington said.

The hired social worker will start July 17 but has already been working with the city in addressing homelessness, according to Christ. She added that the campus will first develop a plan to help the homeless who live in People’s Park and then think about potentially building student housing.

There will be complications with building on almost every site the campus is looking at, according to Christ.

Christ said she has already assembled a task force with student representation to examine all the potential housing sites. This task force will determine which sites are the most promising and how the campus can provide the most affordable housing.

“We can’t build any housing until we amend our long-range development plan. I’ve had conversations with the city about that,” Christ said. “I feel so fortunate that the mayor is so excited about our adding student housing.”

Worthington said past relations between the city and campus have had ups and downs. He recalls meeting with former chancellor Chang-Lin Tien often but said he didn’t meet with Dirks as much.

Worthington said he hopes the campus will be able to build student housing as soon as possible. As the representative for District Seven — encompassing campus and parts of South Berkeley — student housing and public safety are top priorities for him. He added that he is optimistic Christ will help the city in tackling these issues.

Malini Ramaiyer is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @malinisramaiyer.